Dalina Castellanos / Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Cautiously optimistic about the approaching holiday season, the nation’s retailers have begun their annual hunt for part-time workers and seasonal help. And with nationwide unemployment at 8.1 percent in August, there is no shortage of applicants.

Just ask Mirna Galeana, who is already searching for some holiday work hours to supplement her part-time job as an after-school program leader with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“It would be nice to have money for gifts, but it’s not even about that. I need money to pay for my rent and my car,” the 25-year-old said while picking up job applications at Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret stores in downtown Los Angeles.

In recent days, big retail chains have been announcing plans to boost their seasonal hiring somewhat. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Kohl’s Inc. and Toys R Us Inc. weighed in last week with plans to increase hiring. And on Monday, Macy’s Inc. said it would enlist 80,000 seasonal workers, up 2.5 percent from last year.

Now the National Retail Federation is estimating that U.S. retailers overall will hire between 585,000 and 625,000 seasonal workers this holiday season, about the same as the 607,000 hired last year.

“The numbers are a good indication that retailers are expecting increases in foot traffic this year. They wouldn’t hire if they didn’t feel the need for the extra staff,” said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the trade group. “They’re a good indication that retailers are feeling positive overall about holiday season expectations.”

The trade group also expects holiday sales to increase to $586.1 billion this year, up 4.1 percent compared with last year’s holiday season — a greater rise than the 10-year average holiday-sales increase of 3.5 percent.

Retailers increase their staffing every year from October through December, hiring people to work in call centers, distribution centers and stores during the busy holiday season. As the retailers extend store hours for holiday shoppers, they need to beef up staffing to assist customers, ring up purchases and restock merchandise.

For workers, the holiday season can be a crazed time, shoppers and merchants agree. Yvonne DeBoer of Bellflower, Calif., said she’s familiar with the demands of working retail during the Christmas season after spending a few years at big-box stores. But after being unemployed for three months, the 55-year-old is ready to handle whatever comes her way.

“Right now’s a good time because I can get my foot in the door” for a longer-term position, she said as she applied for a job at Wal-Mart.

The current national hiring projections for this year are still skimpy compared with the pre-recession days. Between 2004 and 2007, companies hired an average of 722,000 additional workers each holiday season, according to consulting firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. Still, with the struggling economy, job seekers are adopting a “take what you can get” attitude.

DeBoer, the Bellflower woman, was among a crowd of job seekers at a Wal-Mart hiring center in Downey, Calif., last week. They were applying for jobs at a new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in Downey, but they also were given the option of applying for seasonal work at other Wal-Mart stores.

Many job seekers remain hopeful that seasonal jobs will lead to something more permanent.

“To me, ‘seasonal’ is what I call ‘a way in.’ Once they see you’re a good worker and judge your work ethic, you could get hired on past the holidays,” said Theodore White, 25.